4th and Goal: 4 takeaways from the Panthers epic win

Kicker Graham Gano #9 celebrates with Michael Palardy #5 and J.J. Jansen #44 of the Carolina Panthers after his game-wining 63-yard field goal against the New York Giants. (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)

This game had multiple story lines coming into it. It had even more after Graham Gano hit a Panthers record 63-yard field goal to win the game for Carolina 33-31 over the New York Giants.

While most eyes were on Eric Reid during his protest of the National Anthem, some had eyes on the special teams who were getting introduced through the tunnel for the first time ever.

What a day to do that, huh? Here are the four biggest takeaways from Sunday’s win.

Gano is Money Well Spent
When the Panthers gave Graham Gano his 4-year, $17 million extension in March, it was a reward for having one of the most clutch years in Carolina kicking history. He continued to prove why he’s worth the money Sunday.

Gano nailed a club record 63-yard field goal to win the game, but he also scored from 39 and 47 yards out twice. Graham has now made 36 straight field goals at home, which is impressive for a NFL kicker these days.

Gano has proven he’s not only worth the money but he’s one of the best team players in the locker room. Just ask his specialist friends JJ Jansen and Michael Palardy who consistently have a theme or custom t-shirt made through the week.

When asked about the nerves before the kick, both Ron Rivera and Cam Newton didn’t really have a doubt. Cam even said, “A wise man once told me a QB is only as good as his kicker.” If that’s the case, Cam Newton is Bart Starr.

Ragtag Offensive Line Keeps Pace
Up until late in the game, Cam Newton had all the time in the world to get passes off without a hitch. That changed in the fourth quarter but let’s focus on the good. The offensive line is doing its job.

Patched up with guys who are either back-ups or new signees, the Panthers offensive line has been a vocal point in this 3-1 team.

At the start of this season, many (including myself) thought that this would be the downfall of Carolina. Not the case. Taylor Moten showed that he can handle the extra workload. He had no choice once Ryan Kalil, who was having a great game, went down with an injury.

Greg Van Roten had to finish the winning drive under center and yet again did a serviceable job. Credit Trai Turner who played well for a majority of the game in his first game back from a concussion. Yes, even if he blocked his own man on one play. (What up CMC?)

Defense needs to step up pressure
Eric Washington needs to shake something up. Giving up 31 points to New York is unacceptable. While the defense did have plenty of things to be happy about, one thing they need to address is the lack of getting to the quarterback.

Eli Manning was sacked once. That one sack was also one of the softest ones you’ll ever see. Eli knew he was dead to rights, so he fell to the ground and all Luke Kuechly had to do is put his hand on Manning’s shoulder.

Early in the game, Efe Obada wrapped up Eli but the future Hall of Famer (yup, I said it) got the ball off in time to avoid the sack. That was the only other time the quarterback was even remotely hit.

Through four games, the Panthers have eight total sacks. That number should at least be in double digits. Washington is still getting his feet wet when it comes to running the defense as a whole, but with names like Luke, Peppers, Shaq and Addison in the line-up, something needs to be done.

The Curious Case of The Panthers Secondary

James Bradberry has proven to me that he’s a number one cornerback in the NFL. He gets the number one receiver every week and for the most part shuts him down.

Against Odell Beckham Jr. that wasn’t the case, but he wasn’t on OBJ for the entire game. Donte Jackson had shots against him. Mike Adams and Captain Munnerlyn had trouble with New York’s number one as well.

Adams still had two interceptions but there were some key plays he couldn’t stop. Overall this year, I’d give the secondary a C+ on the reason.

It’s not set in stone because I’m not sure the Giants are the measuring stick to grade them against. They’ll give up big plays at the worst times yet Carolina is a top 5 passing defense according to the numbers. The curious case of the Panthers secondary lives on.